An anonymous reader shares a report: Three decades ago, the U.S. passed an infinitesimal milestone: solar and wind power generated one-tenth of one percent of the country’s electricity. It took 18 years, until 2008, for solar and wind to reach 1% of U.S. electricity. It took 12 years for solar and wind to increase by another factor of 10. In 2020, wind and solar generated 10.5% of U.S. electricity. If this sounds a bit like a math exercise, that’s because it is. Anything growing at a compounded rate of nearly 18%, as U.S. wind and solar have done for the past three decades, will double in four years, then double again four years after that, then again four years after that, and so on. It gets confusing to think in so many successive doublings, especially when they occur more than twice a decade. Better, then, to think in orders of magnitude — 10^10.
There are a number of reasons why exponential consideration matters. The first is that U.S. power demand isn’t growing, and hasn’t since wind and solar reached that 1% milestone in the late 2000s. That means that the growth of wind and solar — and that of natural gas-fired power — have come entirely at the expense of coal-fired power. That replacement of coal with either natural gas (half the emissions of coal) or with wind and solar (zero emissions) is certainly an environmental achievement. Coupled with last year’s massive drop in emissions, that power shift also makes it much easier for the U.S. to meet its Paris Agreement obligations.
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